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Isn’t ‘health’ the same as ‘wellbeing’?

Although the terms ‘health and wellbeing’ are often used together, they are, in fact, quite different concepts. Health philosopher David Seedhouse demonstrated that health is a measure of an individual’s unique assets and constraints, e.g., personal capacities, education. The basis of health is defined as autonomy. This concept of health is universally applicable, since it is tailored to the individual by the individual.

Health is assessed within the limits of the individual’s natural resources, which are different for everyone. Poor health means that an individual has significant limitations to autonomy.

In contrast, wellbeing has a subjective element that autonomy does not.  Wellbeing is based on a person’s values, preferences, and desires in a particular context. In a workplace, health may be a dimension of wellbeing although the reverse cannot be true. Health tends to be valued as a dimension of wellbeing when health is compromised, and is less valued when health is good.

Addressing work wellbeing by providing interventions for health (such as gym facilities, dietary advice, physiotherapy or exercise physiology consultations, flu injections) is not enough.  While some employees may value these initiatives, they are usually recognised as a partial solution. This is because work wellbeing consists of other aspects apart from health, as outlined in Our philosophy.

Is our focus the wellbeing of individual employees or the workplace as a human system?

Although wellbeing is both an employee level attribute and a workplace feature, we  focus on the systemic feature. The approach uses raw qualitative data (provided by individual employees) about significant personal wellbeing experiences in the actual work environment. This might include experiences about jobs, satisfaction, challenge, recognition, safety, how conflict is handled, relations with colleagues, learning, career development, the organisation’s actions, and so on.

When responses are analysed, a unique set of themes or dimensions emerges. These dimensions describe the concept of work wellbeing in the local workplace.

This concept becomes the baseline measurement for the workplace. It indicates areas of satisfaction, optimum functioning, and success. It also highlights areas of, and reasons for, compromised performance and negative attitudes that undermine collective performance and output. Problems are always unique to a workplace, and as such can be remedied in authentic, targeted, relevant ways.

Feedback to the organisation provides real insight into local work wellbeing, its particular strengths and difficulties, and how these play out across the organisation. The  concept is a robust tool for diagnosis, assessing the value of proposed interventions, and evaluating outcomes.

It’s quite possible to promote work wellbeing when you know how to research it and where to invest relevant change initiatives. Evaluating outcomes is seamless when approached using a context relevant, end to end, ‘diagnose-intervene-evaluate’ perspective.


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